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Costs to rise for boarding inmates

With a bed shortage at the Becker County Jail and a not-so-favorable inspection report, Becker County is contracting with Hubbard County for some extra housing for inmates.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections recently came back with a jail inspection that cited several deficiencies. The biggest question from Becker County commissioners Tuesday at the regular meeting was how come this is just coming to light now?

Commissioner Barry Nelson said that it’s strange that the jail has been OK on inspections over the years and then all of a sudden it’s bad.

During the open forum portion of the meeting, former commissioner Gerry Schram said, “I don’t know how our jail can go from high marks a couple years ago to falling down in shambles.”

He questioned if it’s because of a new inspector, which was answered with a quick “yes.”

Sheriff Kelly Shannon said that the woman who conducted the inspections the last 10 years concentrated on the paperwork and documentation at the jail and not the building. This year saw a new inspector, who cared more about the state of the building, thus the lower ratings.

Becker County’s jail wasn’t the only one to be inspected throughout the state that came back with unfavorable ratings.

But, regardless of the issues with the building, which the board didn’t discuss much since it was already discussed recently, commissioners did talk more about where to house the excess prisoners.

Becker County has been contracting with Hubbard County for beds in its relatively new jail at $46 a day per bed.

Last year, the county leased 143 total beds for just shy of $100,000. In January of this year, the county spent $2,500 with Hubbard County.

Hubbard County is now raising its price from $46 a day to $55 a day per bed.

“I wasn’t happy with that,” Shannon said. “But we’re over barrels because we need the beds.”

Not only is Hubbard County raising the daily rate, it also wants a one-year contract with Becker County, reserving a certain number of beds for the county rather than going on a daily basis.

Shannon said with the new contract and the increase in cost, the county will now pay out about $200,000 a year to Hubbard County and that will be for 10 beds. Becker County could amend the contract for more beds if needed.

“It’s going to be quite a hit to the budget next year,” County Administrator Jack Ingstad said, especially if the county ends up needing more beds like this year, bringing the cost closer to $300,000 for the year. Even at $200,000, he said, it will stress the budget.

When asked about possibly housing inmates in some other county besides Hubbard, Shannon said Becker County is “kind of stuck with Hubbard” because all the other area counties are full or close to full as well.

The board briefly discussed what to do with the existing building – which is past its average lifespan for a jail – and whether the county should build new, retrofit the existing facility or look at a regional facility with another county.

Teaming with White Earth is one option that seemed favorable to both entities.

“They like that concept,” Shannon said, but the jail would have to be built on the reservation because it would receive federal funds.

Becker County is still open to a regional jail with Hubbard County as well.

Even if Becker County decides to contract out 100 percent of its inmates after sentencing, it will still need a processing center for holding cells, fingerprints, mugshots, processing prisoners and for the influx of arrests in the summer, Shannon said.

Nelson asked if it’s even an option to gut the existing jail and build it with the line of sight design that’s new with jails.

He was told it would reduce the number of beds so much that it’s not feasible. And despite what they’ve been told in the past, the commissioners said building up isn’t an option with the existing building.

“If we could get the design right, we’d really be saving on personnel,” Ingstad said.

With that not an option at the moment though, the commission will have to enter into a contract with Hubbard County for the extra beds.

“A Band-Aid is contracting with Hubbard for those beds,” Commissioner Ben Grimsley said.

In other Becker County Board business, Ingstad said the county is at a crossroads again when it comes to the shared public works building with the city of Detroit Lakes.

“We need to see if they are in or out,” he said of the city.

The consultant’s study came back at $11 million for a shared facility, and that there was an equal need for space from the county and the city and therefore the costs should be split 50-50 between the two entities.

Nelson said that $11 million could easily be trimmed to $10 million, costing the city and county each $5 million.

Ingstad the city has agreed to $3 million for the project, but the county says that’s not enough. If the city isn’t going to participate in the shared building, he said, the location would move to fit the county’s needs better.

“We need to come to an agreement on this building,” Ingstad said.

The commissioners also approved a resolution appointing Roy Smith as county surveyor. The commission said the position needs to be appointed instead of elected because of the experience needed for the topography of Becker County.

Smith, who has been serving as the county surveyor, has worked as a surveyor in the county for 40 years and knows the job well.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.